(1994). "Emperor Asoka and the Five Greek Kings," Bhaktivedanta Institute, Alachua, FL

(1994). Emperor Asoka and the Five Greek Kings

Publication Info: 

Thompson, Richard. "Emperor Asoka and the Five Greek Kings." Alachua, FL: Bhaktivedanta Institute, 1994.


In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, light was shed on the ancient history of India by the discovery and decipherment of a large number of royal edicts carved in forgotten alphabets on rocks and pillars. The edicts hearlded the achievements of a king named Priyadarsi in "moral conquest" or dharma-viyaya. Since Priyadarsi's edicts were found over a broad areas of the Indian subcontinent, it appeared that he was a powerful emporer of great historical importance. Scholars surmised that Priyadarsi might be Asoka, an emperor mentioned in the dynastic texts of the Puranas and who is glorified in the Ceylonese Bhuddhist text Mahavamasa for his efforts to spread Buddhism. James Princep's earlier success deciphering the Brahmi alphabet lead to the translation numerous Asokan royal edicts. Scholars quickly became convinced that the names of five kings discovered in an Asokan inscription could be identified as Hellenistic kings living in the period between Alexander the Great and the extension of Roman power in Asia. Scholars then dated Asoka's reign on the basis of this presumed mention of the five Hellenistic kings. But have the five kings been properly identified? To arrive at a satisfactory answer, we must examine the names in their historical setting, beginnning by examining how well Priyadarsi's program of dharma-vijaya fits into the Hellenistic societites of 3rd century B.C. In contrast, an interesting parallel can be seen between passages in Asoka's 13th rock edict and the story in the Mahabharata of Sahadeva's southern campaign. Challenges are presented to the standard identification of the five kings mentioned in translations of the Priyadarsi-Asokan royal edicts, and the possibility of an alternate reconstruction of modern interpretations of ancient Indian history.